Wagging the Dog

Last week Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team, issued a blistering attack on the NCAA, declaring that college basketball was “horrible” and “ridiculous,” and that the college game wasn’t preparing college players for the professional game played in the NBA.

Cuban may well be right about how inadequately college basketball prepares players for the pros, but his attack illustrates two enormous problems with American colleges and universities and an equally large problem with American business.

The first problem is why colleges and universities are paying enormous sums of money to field sports programs at a time when the cost of a college education has gone through the roof. No matter what anyone claims, college sports don’t pay for themselves. No doubt some particular sports at given universities might, but given the new contract awarded to Urban Meyer [over $5 million annually] by Ohio State, I have my doubts about even that.

The second problem is that not only does Mark Cuban regard college as a vocational school, but so do most state legislatures and students, and the problem there is that in today’s fast-moving and ever-changing society and business culture most students can expect to change professions a minimum of seven times, if not more. For them to be successful throughout life, they need more than a single set of skills. They need critical thinking and decision-making skills, not to mention written and verbal communications skills – all of which are skills sadly lacking in far too many college graduates, even for a significant percentage of those obtaining graduate degrees.

Cuban’s comments also illustrate an on-going basic problem with not only the professional sports businesses, but American business in general. They all want someone else to do the hard work of training and screening potential employees, and a college education largely fulfills this requirement. In the past, a large portion, if not all, of this training/screening was paid for by state legislatures through state tax revenues, but state funding as a percentage of each student’s education cost has dropped to an all-time low.

In effect, Cuban wants someone else to train his players at their cost, and he’s complaining that the NCAA isn’t meeting his standards. So sad…

5 thoughts on “Wagging the Dog”

  1. Tony says:

    I believe the bigger issue here is not Mark Cuban’s efforts to get colleges and universities to pay his costs to develop profitable basketball players but rather that colleges and universities are exploiting students participating in football and basketball programs.

    College football and basketball revenues subsidize all other college sports, and the biggest football and basketball programs make millions (U. Texas football generated over $165 million in 2013). Yet, students participating in these programs receive “compensation” of tuition, while the coaches and other staff receive multi-million dollar contracts. If colleges paid football and basketball athletes on par with the coaching staff, as suggested by professor David Berri at SUU, then the vast majority of the NCAA athletic programs would likely collapse.

    One of the older purposes of college education was to prepare the children of privilege, particularly young men, for future leadership in business, law, medicine and government. General Douglas McArthur expressed this view when he said, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” Thus, the military service academies, for example, require all students each semester to participate in intramural and/or intercollegiate athletics.

    At most colleges and universities today, however, participation in college athletics is not a graduation requirement, is not considered part of every student’s development of moral virtues. Instead, it appears that colleges and universities use sports to help drive enrollment, fundraising and alumni engagement by generating positive PR and national media for the institution.

  2. Corwin says:

    The other point he missed is ‘what is the purpose of sport’. Surely, the benefits of playing a sport, any sport, should not be merely the possibility of turning it into a career? College team sports should be about keeping fit, learning to be part of a team, learning to overcome challenges, and MOST IMPORTANT, having FUN. Certainly a small percentage might hope for a future career, but for the majority it should be about participation, not necessarily results. Sadly, that appears to be no longer the case.

  3. KevinT says:

    This is a symptom of a much larger problem. Americans worship at the altar of athletic achievement, and we push our children to participate in athletics at the expense of other important pursuits, such as academic achievement or preparation for a career in the skilled trades.

    Many thousands of young would-be professional athletes compete for every job available in the field. Meanwhile, many (most?) of them fail to put enough effort into preparing for any other field of employment.

    I prefer the model used in most of the rest of the developed world, where school is a place for academics, and sports are pursued through community athletic organizations or other private venues.

  4. Tim says:

    @Tony re :”At most colleges and universities today, however, participation in college athletics is not a graduation requirement”

    and long may it continue – possibly except in the military academies which are not principally aimed at academic study anyway. I went to University to use my brain not to play sport. I had enough of that at school : mandatory cricket in Summer and mandatory Rugby in winter. Athletics for those not good enough for cricket. Mandatory even for 18 year-olds, hence my relief at university where the emphasis was on improving intellectual rather than physical ability.

    OK at 18-20 it is usual to play some sport but only as that – sport. Not a mandatory requirement for graduation. I am with @KevinT on that.

  5. Wine Guy says:

    Training – it is always easier to let someone else bear the cost of training and then cherry pick their workers. Hospitals do it all the time with nursing and medical staff.

    Sounds like Mark Cuban needs to start building NCAA minor leagues just like baseball has…. who knows, maybe there’s another fortune to be made…

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